UK aid protects thousands from extreme weather as ‘mega storms’ tracked across Africa

Source(s): Department for International Development United Kingdom - government National Environment Research Council

British research has found that mega storms are three times more common than they were 35 years ago due to climate change.

UK aid, from DFID, is driving British-led analysis from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Oxfordshire and other global experts to track these storms, how powerful they are becoming, and why they are occurring more regularly.

This analysis is being used to identify the most vulnerable areas of Burkina Faso and Senegal that are likely to be hit by mega storms.

City planners and response units are using this information to design early warning systems and storm-resistant infrastructure to protect homes, schools, hospitals and roads - allowing swift emergency responses to prevent loss of life and extensive destruction.

DFID is also supporting 700,000 people in Burkina Faso living in areas where these extreme storms are so dangerously common, sending warnings and updates via text message and advising farmers on how to protect their crops. Similar approaches are also being used in Senegal.

International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, said:

"Unpredictable and devastating weather threatens the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people."

"UK aid is working with British scientists so that we can prevent and react to natural disasters with an agility that saves lives and livelihoods."

"For every £1 UK aid invests in preventing natural disasters, we can save more than £3 by avoiding the impacts of these extreme weather events."

The flooding from mega storms can lead to the evacuation of towns and cities, as well as devastating rural communities and farms. Winds of up to 60km an hour can uproot trees and harm livestock.

Changing global climates represent a real and serious challenge to some of the world’s poorest people. DFID is taking a leading role in responding to extreme changes in weather – supporting 47 million people globally since 2011 to cope with the effects of climate change.

Professor Chris Taylor, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said:

"While it was expected that global warming would produce more intense storms, we were shocked by the speed of the changes taking place in the Sahel region of Africa."

"Increasingly heavy rainfall, combined with rapid urban expansion in the region, indicates that the impacts of flash flooding are likely to become more frequent and severe in the coming years."

Facts about mega storms:

  • can produce the same amount of energy in 12 hours that the entire UK consumes in a year – almost 6 billion gigajoules;
  • can grow to 16km high and travel up to 1000km at a top speed of 60km an hour – so strong they can uproot trees;
  • the largest-sized storms can grow to be bigger than England (130,000km2);
  • produce 100mm of rain in an hour – equivalent to two months’ rainfall, on average, in London.

Notes to editors

  • The research was funded by the DFID and NERC, a total of £4 million over 5 years (80% DFID, 20% NERC).

  • The research is a collaboration between UK, French and West African institutes. This includes the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, National Centre for Earth Observation, the University of Leeds, the Centre National de Recherches Météorologiques, Université Grenoble Alpes, Université Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Université and the International Institute for Water and the Environment. Professor Chris Taylor of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology led the research by the international team of scientists, which found that global warming was responsible for a tripling in the frequency of extreme West African Sahel storms observed in just the past 35 years.

  • This is part of the Future Climate for Africa research programme, in the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis 2050 (AMMA-2050) project. Through the Future Climate for Africa research programme, DFID is providing £16 million over 5 years to support world-leading research to enhance scientific understanding, predictions and decision-making on extreme weather and climate in sub-Saharan Africa. Co-funding of £4 million has been provided by the NERC.

  • High-quality climate information is crucial for effective disaster risk management and adapting to changing weather patterns; yet this is not yet available across many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. DFID’s work is increasing the quality and availability of such information, which is supporting African countries to prepare and respond to extreme weather and protect sources of income and economic development, and improve value for money in responding to natural disasters.

  • DFID is supporting 700,000 people in Burkina Faso to cope with extreme changes in weather through its Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters programme, providing £7.3 million over 4 years, starting in January 2015. The projects includes changing farming practices to prepare for heavy rain and high temperatures, providing weather-resilient farming advice, including weather-tolerant seeds and soil fertility treatments to protect sources of income and food.

  • Early planning and prevention of natural disasters saves lives and is better value for money. Every £1 invested can save more than £3 (and up to £50) in responding to future crises.

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